Phuket dive site damaged by trawler

PHUKET: One of the airplanes at the artificial reef dive site off Phuket known as the “Coral Reef Squadron” has been damaged after being hit by the anchor of a fishing trawler.

Rainer Gottwald, CEO of the Thai Dive Association (TDA) technical committee, said the damage probably occurred on the night of April 10. It was discovered the following day.

A second plane had a fishing net entangled on it, indicating damage by a trawler.

Since the ten aircraft were lowered into the sea off Phuket in November last year, sponges and shells have begun to accumulate on the hulls, yet the part of the plane struck by the anchor chain had been wiped clean by the impact, Mr Gottwald said.

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TDA divers and Cherng Talay Tambon Administration Organization officials visited the site on Wednesday to inspect the damage. They were able to remove most of the fishing net.

Strong currents had caused further damage to the plane hit by the anchor, Mr Gottwald said.

Fishing trawlers disregard instructions not to trawl near the site, though the TDA has yet to catch one of them in the act, he explained.

Trawling is prohibited by law anywhere within a 3,000-meter exclusion zone from land.

The Coral Reef Squadron site is marked by buoys, so there is little question of crews simply not knowing it is there.

“They already know where it is. They have GPS systems; they have fish finders; and they have sonar, so they will know where it is,” Mr Gottwald said.

Fishermen are not the only ones damaging the artificial reef, however.

Divers had further damaged the site by taking souvenirs. One of the helicopters’ blades has even been removed and several switches have also been removed from aircraft.

The damage highlights the need to establish a security regime at the site, Mr Gottwald said.

The TDA plans to employ graduates of its Marine Scouts program to patrol and protect the site, but funds for such a project have yet to be secured.

A possible approach might be to charge 500 baht for a year’s license to dive at the site. In return, divers would receive a commemorative coin. Similar systems have been effectively employed at dive sites in the Caribbean, he said.

“I myself would proudly pay 500 baht a year to secure the place and make it even bigger and more attractive for future tourism in Phuket,” Mr Gottwald said.

In a related development, the TDA plans to encircle the squadron with forty train wagons. Such an arrangement would act as a protective wall for the planes and make the site even more impressive, he said.

The TDA is currently welcoming delegations from around the world to the CMAS World Underwater Federation’s General Assembly, taking place from tomorrow until May 9 at the Phuket Orchid Resort on Karon Beach.

The event also marks the 50th anniversary of CMAS, which was founded in 1958 under the direction of renowned underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau.

— Dan Waites

Phuket News
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